1. That which remains
"The Pony has changed," one said with a nod at the crowded room, where a number of people of Gondorian descent enjoyed their meal. Tomorrow they were off North with those craftsmen that had decided to try their luck where the demand for helping hands was the greatest, for who among the native population had the skill to rebuild a city of stone? None Pelendur thought ruefully as he reminded himself of his own craft, which really was no "craft" at all in the original sense of the word. A trade that was slowly beginning to lose its significance in the new Age of mending and healing. Not quite yet, for now the roads were still unsafe enough for the caravans to need protection. And that meant more coin in a ranger's purse, considerably more if he were ruthless enough where a rich merchant was concerned, in addition to the fixed payment according to rank they all got. But in years to come?
"The fare has gotten more expensive. As have the nights with a lass," the other said gloomily and took a swig of his ale. "I now have to think twice about purchasing certain things."
"You have always had to, Mardil," Pelendur reminded him. "And you cannot begrudge Barley his share of the 'economic improvement'." He stressed the last two words and rolled his eyes at the odd phrasing. "He has customers enough that are willing to pay the higher prices. It is still a lot cheaper than in Minas Tirith."
"You can hardly compare Bree to Minas Tirith," Mardil grunted. "But I fear for Annúminas's beer prices once the city is rebuilt."
Pelendur shrugged. "I have hopes that Halladan might have mercy with us and supply the butteries of the companies with good, and above all, free ale. And as for the lasses, maybe you should finally settle down. We have been blessed with many a beautiful maiden only waiting for attention."
"Staying true to one lady is not so bad, you know."
"'Tis not that. I find myself at loose ends, ever on the move and unsettled, in body as well as at heart. The long watch is over and now I am unsure what awaits us. Somehow it is not what I expected it to be. I do not know." He bowed his head and stared at the contents of his half-empty mug.
"We are still rangers and there is yet enough evil to slay for all of us. I doubt that we will ever find ourselves out of work."
"Hm. But it is not the same. There are now others that do the work that I have always dreamt of doing. The dream of rebuilding what lay in ruins for so long is now realised by other hands."
"I understand," Pelendur said and meant it. "It is not for us to melt our swords and forge a plough. But if we do what is ours to do - to protect those that can rebuild, then the fruits of our labours may grow into the hands of our children and our children's children, if you cared to get some. Have hope." He clapped Mardil on the shoulder, pushed his chair back and stood. "It has only just begun."